Current news in the weight-loss/wellness community is that “FAT IS BACK and the famous KETO DIET IS MAGICAL”. But is it really? Let’s take a look at what is really going on here. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds. The percentage of these deaths from heart attacks are highest among Non-Hispanic Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites. They also state that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. These are extremely alarming statistics! The question here is, can the fat you eat or drink cause you to have a heart attack?
In order to answer this question, it is important to define some key words. Now, there are different kinds of fats.
SATURATED FAT is solid at room temperature and found in foods like coconut oil, palm oil, lard, red meat, bacon, pork,hot dogs, eggs, cheese, heavy cream, ice cream, etc.
UNSATURATED FAT is mostly liquid at room temperature. There are two kinds. Foods with monounsaturated fats are foods like avocados, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, sesame oil and sunflower oil. Foods with polyunsaturated fats are soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, walnuts and sunflower seeds.
Trans fats are mostly commercially made fats and can be found in many foods – including fried foods like chicken, doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, and stick margarine and other spreads.
Cholesterol is a fatty, white substance produced by the liver with key functions like producing hormones and enzymes for digestion. It is found in meats, eggs and dairy and also made in your be body. Cholesterol circulates in your blood to the parts of the body where it is needed. It is carried along by proteins LDLs and HDLs to their various destinations throughout the body. We generally know that eating fatty foods will raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). Foods with saturated fats can cause you to have a heart attack. But is s this really true? Let’s find out.
In the 1950s, Dr. Ancel Keys, a pathologist at the University of Minnesota, first proposed that dietary saturated fats raise cholesterol, while unsaturated fats lowered blood cholesterol. After his “Seven Countries Study”, Dr. Keys came to the conclusion that in raising blood cholesterol, saturated fats in food therefore caused heart disease. This is where our fear of saturated fats in foods began, even though he intentionally excluded countries like France and Sweden with low rates of heart disease and high dietary fat consumption, from his study. He was able to convince the American Heart Association at that time to publish the first ever guidelines asking Americans to cut back on saturated fats in order to slow down heart disease. The American government adopted this view, and so the world followed.
World Health Organization (2018) recommends reducing saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy intake by reducing trans-fats to less than 1% of total energy intake and replacing both saturated fats and trans-fats with unsaturated fats in particular, with polyunsaturated fats.
The American Heart Association presently recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat.
According to http://www.nutritionfacts.org run by plant based advocate Dr. Michael Greger, we should lower our cholesterol through diet by reducing our intake of trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol. He recommends that intake of meats, dairy, eggs and junk food, should be as low as possible to avoid heart disease.
Dr. Jason Fung a Canadian based kidney specialist and world leading expert on intermittent fasting, disagrees with Dr. Greger. In his book “The Obesity Code”, Dr. Fung specifically recommends the consumption of eggs, yogurt and other natural fats like grass fed beef. All these contain dietary cholesterol and saturated fats.
The Obesity Code: https://amzn.to/2CCHfvR
Dr. Greger and Dr. Fung both often quote compelling research studies to back up their stance on this controversial issue. So if you ask Dr. Greger for nutrition advice, he will definitely discourage you from eating any kind of meat or fish regardless of how organic the source is. Now if you ask Dr. Fung for nutritional advice, he will readily recommend you include grass fed beef and other saturated oils in your meals. Both recommendations have scientific research backing them up.
Dr. Greger’s stance on saturated fats is greatly supported by a study by Robert Clarke et al. In their epidemiology study “Dietary lipids and blood cholesterol: quantitative meta-analysis of metabolic ward studies” published in BMJ 1997, Robert Clarke et al concluded that “in typical British diets, replacing 60% of saturated fats by other fats and avoiding 60% of dietary cholesterol would reduce blood total cholesterol by about 0.8 mmol/l (that is, by 10-15%), with four fifths of this reduction being in low density lipoprotein cholesterol”
To support Dr. Fung’s theory, let’s look at the work of Dr. Zoe Harcombe, who is a Cambridge University graduate with a PhD in public health nutrition, a researcher and author. Her research “Evidence from randomized controlled trials does not support current dietary fat guidelines: a systematic review and meta-analysis from Zoe Harcombe et al concluded that consuming dietary fats did not increase your chances of dying from heart disease.
So going back to the beginning, was Dr. Ancel Keys a fraud with a very strong personality or was he a scientific genius with a breakthrough discovery on the negative effects on dietary saturated fats on the human heart? Should health practitioners embrace the findings of Dr. Zoe Harcombe and still encourage their patients to eat foods with saturated fats?
In my opinion, for research to make the point for or against dietary saturated fats/cholesterol/trans fats increasing the risk for heart disease, it needs to isolate these foods and study their individual effects on the heart. This means without combining them with refined carbs or sugary drinks, for example, while asking questions like is dietary cholesterol alone the cause heart disease or is it in combination with trans fats and saturated fats? More research is still needed to answer some of these very important questions.
In the mean time, what do we do? What should our plates look like? Increase saturated fats or not? Should we include organic meats, fish and saturated oils in our diets or should we just live on healthy plants, nuts and seeds? This is a good question for your medical professional during your next visit.
WLS, FNS (NASM)